Crystal Clear Pool
Home Automation, Recreation

Best Robotic Pool Cleaner for In-Ground Pools

Home automation is not just about hi-tech, wifi-connected gadgets. Home automation is about making your life easier with tools that free up your time.

Before I bought my robotic pool cleaner, I spent anywhere from 3 to 6 hours PER WEEK trying to keep my pool clean for my family.

Now that I have our automatic pool vacuum, I’ve cut my pool maintenance time down to about 2 hours per week TOTAL.

Quick Reference: My Purchasing Criteria

 


Dolphin

Polaris

Baracuda

Pool Blaster
Has its own pump
Has a turning brush
A/C Power
Filters fine particles

In my old routine, I would spend at least three hours trying to use our manual vacuum hose to remove dead algae sediment from the bottom of the pool. This was my most dreaded chore of my weekly summer-time routine.  I would try to start early in the day before the sun was in its full blazing glory searing my forehead like oven-cooked bacon.

Unfortunately, I could never get the manual vacuum to work properly. Our pool has two skimmers, one close to the pump and one on the other side of the pool. I could never really figure out which one I was supposed to use. I eventually realized that the near-side skimmer had better suction, but even when blocking the other skimmer, I could never get the vacuum to effectively pull the silt up. So, in addition to three hours of ineffective vacuuming, I also did the very tiring work of brushing the entire pool to get the sediment suspended in the water, so that the filter could remove it.

Besides wearing me out, this approach also had the disadvantage that I would end up running my pump 24 hours per day for several days before the pool would get clear, greatly increasing my electricity bill which was already substantial from the demands of the air conditioner in the Texas summer heat.  Furthermore, I was spending lots of money on flocculants and clarifiers beyond what I was buying in shock and chlorine tablets. 

Other Styles of Vacuums Were Wastes of Money

Before buying my Dolphin pool cleaner, I sank money into two other methods of getting my pool clean.

Manual Vacuums Did Not Work

First, I tried the manual vacuum. I ran off and purchased the long vacuum hose. I bought 2 or 3 different vacuum heads, and tried various methods of blocking suction from the other skimmer that I was not using for vacuum pressure.  No matter what I did, the suction and silt removal was minimal. In addition to that, I was spending hours getting the hose into the pool in just the right way to ensure that there were no air bubbles in it that would weaken the suction. And afterwards, I’d spend at least 30 minutes, just trying to wrangle the hose back into the box it came in to store it in the garage.  In between, I would sit on the edge of the pool with my feet in the water helping to guide the vacuum tube this way and that so that I could reach the distant and deep areas of the pool.

Rechargeable Pole Vacuums Are a Waste of Money

Second, I tried a lower-end electric vacuum. I spent about $200 on a rechargeable filter bag vacuum that goes on the end of your pool pole. As excited as I was about this purchase, I was soon sorely disappointed.  The pole vacuum was pretty much useless for the following reasons:

Short Battery Life

The battery only lasted about 45 minutes which was not enough time to do any major cleaning. You may be thinking 45 minutes is plenty, until you read this next point

Small Filter Bag

The filter bag was about the size of a pint glass. This bag filled up in about 5 minutes of vacuuming, and then I had to spend the next 10 minutes, pulling the vacuum apart, cleaning the bag, and putting it back together. So, all told, I got about 3 five-minute sessions of actual vacuuming done before the battery would start to peter out and need recharging.

True, the suction was better than my manual vac, but because of the reasons above, the pole vacuum was horribly frustrating, and ultimately ineffective.

After Three Years of Torture, I Decided to Spend Real Money on the Problem

As much as try to limit my expenses, I knew I had to bite the bullet and invest in a better solution.  I had two major options to choose from. I could gamble again on hardware by purchasing a high-end robotic cleaner, or I could take my wife’s advice and hire a pool service.

Hiring a Pool Service

I had numerous reservations about hiring a pool service, one of which was the blow to my pride that would come from having a probably younger, stronger man hanging out in my backyard doing the work that Daddy is supposed to do. But mainly, I could not bring myself to pay someone to clean my pool at a price that was almost the price of an entire bucket of shock every month. There were also the security concerns of giving yet another service provider access to my backyard when I’m not around as I already pay for lawn care.

So, for me, a pool service was a last resort. I was determined to find a way to keep my pool clean and useful without asking an outsider for help.

Shopping for a Robotic Pool Cleaner

Once I made the decision to buy an automatic robotic pool cleaner, I knew from previous experience that there were certain features I would need.

One, It Must Have Its Own Pump

Because I had struggled so much with my manual vacuum, I knew that the robot for me would need its own mechanism for moving water through its filter medium. The pump that runs the filter for my pool is a good solid pump, but it does not have any extra power beyond what it uses to circulate the pool water.  It simply is not strong enough to run the filter AND provide sufficient suction to pull algae from the pool floor.

There are different ways to fulfill this requirement. There are some devices that use a pump that sits outside of the pool and have a hose that connects to the vacuum head. Others, like my Dolphin, have a motor and fan inside the submerged vacuum head.  I don’t necessarily know that what I’ve chosen is better, but it definitely works.

Two, A Moving Brush

Suction is not enough. If you are going to get your pool clean of months worth of algae growth, you need to brush. But, I HATE brushing my pool. I am a middle aged father with a lot of things to take care of and I’d rather not spend hours every week brushing down the walls of my pool with 1 inch by 14 inch brush.  

If I’m going to put out hundreds of dollars for a pool cleaner, it had better clean the pool and not just get it ready for me to clean.

Three, A Plug In Power Source

Some tools and devices lend themselves well to rechargeable batteries as a power source.  Devices that are used for short periods of time like electric screwdrivers and weed wackers work perfectly fine, though for the latter, I definitely suggest buying a second battery.  Devices that require long periods of operation, or high levels of torque are much better suited to using 110 volt AC power.  I much prefer my plug-in DeWalt drill and driver to the rechargeable Worx driver. I’m sure there are really good battery-operated drills out there, but I’d really have to do some research before making a purchase.  Similarly, if I ever bought an electric lawn mower, I’d much rather put up with unwieldy power and extension cords than have to stop mid-mow to put a battery on a charging station.

And after my experience with the rechargeable pole vac, I knew I needed constant AC power to be comfortable. And as weird as it seems to run a power cord from you home into a giant pool of water, this criterion has been critical to my success.

Nice To Have, It’s Own Filter Medium

One more thing I looked for in a robotic pool cleaner, was a filter medium independent of my whole pool filter.  I tend to have a LOT of sediment. This may mean that I could do a better job with my chemical balance. Either way, even when the sediment is suspended in the pool water, it takes many washes of the filter to get the pool clear and clean.  So, I wanted to add to my existing filter capacity when I bought my cleaner.  I wanted the option of starting up my pool cleaner without having to go through the hassle of disassembling and washing my main filter.

Dolphin to the Rescue!

After spending hours and hours comparing reviews on Amazon as well as lobbing tons of annoying questions at the guys at Leslie’s Pool Supply, I decided on the Dolphin Robotic Pool Cleaner by Maytonics.

The Dolphin is a hard-working and reliable device with plenty of power and a sizable filter bag. The version of the device that I purchased even has a roll-around caddy attached to the control module.  

It’s also a very smart device. Unlike many pool cleaners that randomly creep around your pool, the Dolphin remembers the shape of your pool and has an algorithm for ensuring that it cleans the entire pool.  Even better, the control module has several timed programs so that you can turn it on and have the robot start itself daily. I personally don’t use that feature as I like to clean out the filter bag after one or two cleaning cycles.

It Was a Good Decision

My Dolphin Wally
Wally has served us for 5 years

I have had Wally now for 5 seasons (pool-years).  My total cost of ownership has been in the range of about $1500.  Beyond the additional purchase price, after 3 years, my pool cleaner did break. Luckily, I was able to take him to a Leslie’s Pool Supply and they fixed him on the spot. I turned out that years of leaving Wally in the pool when he was not in use had damaged his power-control cable. After testing the cable, the technician replaced it with one he had in stock for $300.

I’d Do It Again In a Heartbeat

With the years of loyal service my Dolphin Robotic Pool Cleaner has given me, I would definitely purchase another in the event that he could not be repaired.

Recreation

Building and Engineering Toys for 10 Year Olds (Or Really Cool Adults)

What parent doesn’t dream of their kids to learn while playing? Today making this dream come true is possible and easy with the help of building and engineering toys. Your budding engineer will enjoy playing with these amazing kits. And the best thing? They will learn lots of science in the meantime.

Building and engineering toys for the 10-year-old set are extremely varied. They are usually called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) toys as they help to develop skills in all these areas.

7 Top Building and Engineering Toys for 10-Year-Olds

 Snap Circuits Pro SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit    

Snap Circuits PRO SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit

Snap Circuits Pro SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit

The Snap Circuits PRO SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit is your kid’s best introduction to the incredible world of electronics. This toy won numerous awards, including The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval and Dr. Toy 100 Best Children’s Products. The kit allows making over 500 different projects that can show your child what electronics are capable of.

The instructions included in the package are very detailed, yet written so clearly, your 10-year old will be able to understand it. You can also download them from the Elenco website anytime.

The kit includes 70 color-coded circuit components that enable kids to work out how different types of electronics work. As it’s a snap kit, playing with it is easy and safe. Your Snap Circuits PRO SC-500 will have a LED display, slide switches, FM radio module, and more interesting parts. Your kid will be able to build a small circuit board similar to those in many electronic devices. Highlighting similarities like this will help children understand how the skills they learn can apply in real life.

Pros
  • Safe for 10-year olds
  • No soldering required
  • Snap-on parts
  • Easy-to-understand instructions
Cons
  • Limited number of experiments
  • Little explanations of why circuits work the way they do

littleBits Base Kit – Rule Your Room

The littleBits Base Kit – Rule Your Room is another holder of multiple awards for educational toys. This is a truly extraordinary STEM product that can help kids to not only learn more but also develop their creativity. The kit can be applied to every item in the child’s room to produce an original and exciting invention.littleBits Base Kit

Among building and engineering toys, the littleBits Base Kit stands out due to its extreme versatility. The product comes with instructions for 8 different applications and one challenge. However, these basic projects are simply a preparation for more creative applications. Your children are sure to enjoy finding new ways to automate different items with the kit. The activity is extremely fun for both adults and kids. It also helps develop STEM skills better than the majority of other toys available today.

The littleBits Base Kit is a toy for the innovators of tomorrow. The best thing about it is that it’s perfectly safe and can be easily managed by a 10-year old. The projects need no soldering or even wiring.

Pros
  • Extremely versatile
  • Allows for limitless creativity
  • Can be combined with everyday items
Cons
  • Requires parental guidance (at least at first)
  • Somewhat fragile connections for some parts

Wonder Workshop Dash Robot

Dash from the Wonder Workshop Dash Robot is a great helper for learning code. The robot is responsive and can be controlled through iPhone and Android apps. It’s another of the coding-themed toys that won many awards. All of them well-deserved as the robot is a 

must-have for raising a STEM-savvy child.Wonder Workshop Dash Robot

The apps controlling Dash come with built-in programming challenges, so your kids will learn how to code while playing. The robot needs no batteries and can be charged via a USB cable. It comes fully assembled, which increases toy safety. The controlling app itself is extremely fun as it makes developing code as easy as ‘finger painting’.

If your child is already familiar with coding and robotics, or simply ‘too big for kiddy stuff’, try Wonder Workshop Cue Robot. This will not only be more of a challenge code-wise, Cue is also a robot with an attitude. This little fella is powered by an advanced emotive AI that can share jokes and make witty comments. It’s equipped with a variety of sensors that enable children to design complex routes and challenges for the robot.

Pros
  • Pre-assembled
  • Chargeable through USB
  • Makes coding fun
  • Controlled through smartphone apps
Cons
  • Limited for kids who know basic coding
  • Requires an Android or IOS device compatible with Bluetooth Smart 4 / LE

LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox 17101 Building and Coding Kit (847 Pieces)

Your kid needs the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox 17101 Building and Coding Kit (847 Pieces) if you want them to fall in love with robotics. It’s also a smart purchase if you already have some LEGO building and engineering toys. All of them are compatible and combining various items boosts child’s creativity.LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox 17101 Building and Coding Kit (847 Pieces)

The kit allows one to build five different robots (one at a time). One of those is a guitar, so you can make your little coder a musician as well. Each of the projects has a variety of sound effects and can be managed with a tablet app.

The LEGO Boost truly is a toy for STEM-savvy kids. It’s a challenge to those who know nothing about coding, but a joy to everyone who loves LEGO. The kit includes a playmat that can be used for some specific challenges. LEGO robots from this kit have color, tilt, and distance sensors.

Note that the LEGO Builder (one of the available robots) can make mini-LEGO models.

Pros
  • Compatible with a variety of LEGO kits
  • Controlled through a mobile app
  • Versatile and good for creativity development
Cons
  • Tablet app may not be compatible with all devices
  • Limited features and sensors

LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 31313 Robot Kit for Kids

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 is a step up from the LEGO Booster. It has more interesting and advanced features, but it’s harder to code. It’s one of the more complex  engineering toys available now. It will be a good choice for those who already love and are somewhat skilled in robotics.LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 31313 Robot Kit for Kids

The robot can be controlled through infrared sensors. The coding interface offered by LEGO runs on Macs and PCs and there are apps for Android and iOS available. The MINDSTORMS page of the official LEGO website features a variety of exciting instructions from fans.

The kit allows building one of the five different robots. It’s a highly creative and rather advanced STEM toy that will not only walk and talk as instructed. These robots run on AI that can think for itself and will challenge your little coder. Once your 10-year old beats all the toy can offer, you can switch to advanced programming options for a bigger challenge.

Pros
  • Great for learning advanced programming
  • 5 unique and versatile robots in one set
  • Can be adapted to a variety of projects
Cons
  • No boxes for storing pieces included
  • Too difficult for some kids

Piper Computer Kit| Educational Computer That Teaches STEM and Coding

With the Piper Computer Kit| Educational Computer That Teaches STEM and Coding, the name says it all. It’s one of the best building and engineering toys for 10-year olds who are fascinated with computers.Piper Computer Kit | with Minecraft Raspberry Pi edition

It is, in fact, a self-contained computer in a hand-crafted wooden case. The device features an LCD display, Raspberry Pi 3 project board (1.2Ghz quad-core CPU & 1 Gb RAM). It includes a variety of electronic gadgets ranging from LED lights to motion sensors. There’s even a Raspberry Pi Minecraft edition included to ‘sweeten the deal’ The Piper Computer can use Wi-Fi for sharing and more advanced gaming.

The kit has a very easy-to-understand instruction for assembling it, so your 10-year old shouldn’t have any trouble. You can save your game progress using an 8-Gb SD card. With this STEM toy, your kid will learn how to program and work with computer hardware. It allows building a variety of real-life electronic gadgets (switches, buttons, etc.)

Pros
  • Good step-by-step introduction to computer programming
  • Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft
  • Numerous electronic components for creative building
Cons
  • Limited as there are only a few parts
  • Focus on Minecraft instead of versatile coding

Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machines

The Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machines are for kids who love all kinds of motorized vehicles. They are rather versatile and complex but easy to build.Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machines

Remote control cars have always been a favorite of children and Thames & Kosmos take it to a new level. Their machines are not mere STEM toys, they are a handbook of a young engineer. The kit includes 182 building pieces and 3 motors for boosting your child’s creativity. There’s a large booklet with instructions and designs and you’ll be able to create 10 different vehicles with the kit.

Note that the Remote Control Machines are compatible with other STEM products from Thames & Kosmos. This enables even more creativity development for your little engineer. The remote control has 6 buttons and is touch-sensitive. It’s so fun to play with. You will love it as much as your kids. The kit allows controlling all three motors from the kit at the same time.

The kit is versatile, so you aren’t limited by the ideas offered in the instruction booklet.

Pros
  • Extremely versatile
  • Affordable
  • Develops engineering skills and creativity
  • Easy-to-follow instructions even for complete beginners
Cons
  • Not very durable
  • Powered by batteries

Benefits of Building and Engineering Toys for Kids

If you are in doubt about buying STEM toys for your child, don’t hesitate. Playing with these items benefits children in a great number of ways. Aside from better understanding the technology that surrounds us, the most important skills they develop include:

Critical thinking and reasoning

STEM toys teach kids to not only accept that electronic items work but to understand how they do. Therefore, your child comes to realize that every element of the system plays a vital part.

Focus.

Even the most active child can settle for hours playing with building and engineering toys. The ability to focus on the task is invaluable in preparation for school and adult life.

Patience

Working with STEM toys children learn that they must be patient and calm to build the item they want to play with.

Creativity

The majority of STEM toys allow kids to build their own designs by combining various parts. Manufacturers of these items also help encourage creativity by offering challenges and contests.

Confidence

Few things help build up self-confidence as effectively as the success of seeing your toy creation work.

Problem solving

STEM toys encourage kids to try finding solutions if their projects fail. This skill is combined with creativity as they can use a variety of different methods to fix the problem.

Don’t forget that working with building toys also improves hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and generally boosts a child’s IQ.

STEM Toys for Your Kids

Nowadays, teaching kids to love science is easy. Various STEM toys are fascinating to play with and so versatile, each kid will find something to enjoy. If you want to get your child into robotics, try building and engineering toys from LEGO, like Booster or MINDSTORMS series.

Young coding and computer lovers are sure to enjoy a Piper Computer Kit or Wonder Workshop programmable robots Dash and Cue.

If you want to introduce your 10-year old to the science behind electricity, try Snap Circuits or littleBits kits.

In case you are looking for a child’s all-time favorite remotecontrolled cars, the Thames and Kosmos kit would be the best option.